Tax "Fairness"

Anyone reading this who lives in California is very familiar with proposition 13. It was an initiative passed in the 1970s that rolled back property taxes and limited their future annual increase to 2% a year. This has provided stability and security for homeowners, and is so widely popular that it is considered sacrosanct. When Arnold Schwartzenegger ran for governor he enlisted Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest American, as an economic adviser. Buffet commented how unfair it was that he pay one tenth the property tax of his neighbor with the same valued home. The Terminator terminated his services.

Two weeks ago the local weekly paper printed an article that ridiculed attempts to reform this law. Today they printed my response as their lead letter to the editor

Re: Revisiting Prop.13

Since political dialogue these days is often in broad incendiary stereotypes, with a favorite enemy being the "tax and spend lobby" so vilified by Mr. Coupal's Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association a little introspection may be in order.

How many of those who cheer tax "protection" or "relief" have not benefited from what taxes have provided. How many of them, or their parents, enjoyed a career made possible by the world class education, all the way through graduate school, that had been the birthright of every Californian. It was free, paid for by taxpayers. The highways that facilitated commerce, public health, the criminal justice system,, the agencies that kept the ocean accessible did not just happen, they are the products of government.

And the greatest gift, living in a free self governing country, was not ordained by God. It took the lives of thousands of fighting men and women, but it also took the wealth, a good chunk of the earnings of generations of citizens who did not beg for "relief" from taxes, but gladly remitted them for the preservation of that which they valued beyond personal wealth.

The "unfairness" (his quotes) of Prop 13 is far from a trivial quibble; it strikes at what has been the unique quality of this land, the promise that every newcomer, every impoverished immigrant will be treated the same as those who are established. We never promised happiness, only the opportunity to achieve it. Housing overwhelms every other expense, yet for this vital necessity, it is the group that is not established, those who are trying to get a foothold onto the American dream, who are told to pay more, a lot more, in taxes.

There are ways to adjust Proposition 13 to retain many of its benefits for existing owners while limiting its adverse effect on those who are trying to become new home owners. Fairness seems like a pretty tepid rallying cry. It shouldn't be. It is what has made this country great.